Just Say No (to College)

College may be a little over-hyped, according to many detractors. But what should people do instead? According to an article by Jacques Steinberg in the New York Times:

A small but influential group of economists and educators is pushing another pathway: for some students, no college at all. It’s time, they say, to develop credible alternatives for students unlikely to be successful pursuing a higher degree, or who may not be ready to do so.

Among those calling for such alternatives are the economists Richard K. Vedder of Ohio University and Robert I. Lerman of American University, the political scientist Charles Murray, and James E. Rosenbaum, an education professor at Northwestern. They would steer some students toward intensive, short-term vocational and career training, through expanded high school programs and corporate apprenticeships.

Lerman is a particular fan of on-the-job apprenticeships like one program at the pharmacy chain CVS in which, according to the article, “aspiring pharmacists’ assistants work as apprentices in hundreds of stores, with many going on to study to become full-fledged pharmacists themselves.” A lot of this sort of training doesn’t really require people to go to traditional college.

But despite the apparent benefits of these programs, effective vocational training is hard to find. Steinberg attributes this, at least in part, to “the push for national education standards,” standards that do often seem to be standards for college.

But somehow, no matter what the economy looks like, and no matter how much America needs vocational training, the college applications just keep coming. An earlier article by the same author indicates that college applications are still up. This appears to be because there just aren’t good alternatives to college yet.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer